Monday, February 11, 2008

It's All About Power and Money

PerryScope: Perry Diaz

The ouster of Jose de Venecia as Speaker in the wee hours of February 5, 2008, demonstrated once again President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's insatiable lust for power. Indeed, Arroyo has amassed and consolidated more power than any other president except Ferdinand Marcos. But she did it without martial law. Through a series of Machiavellian maneuvers, she achieved absolute power. And as Lord Acton said more than a century ago, "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely." It was true then, it is still true today.

The Philippine government was patterned after the U.S. form of government which has three branches -- Executive, Legislative and Judiciary. Each branch is independent from the other branches, a mechanism that provides a "check and balance" in the government. But with de Venecia removed as Speaker -- and 80% of the congressmen controlled by Arroyo -- the House of Representatives would become a rubber stamp of the Executive branch just like it was with the Batasang Pambansa (National Legislature) during the Marcos dictatorship.

The new Speaker, Prospero Nogales -- said to have been handpicked by Arroyo herself -- would just be a glorified lapdog of Arroyo who'll do anything that she wants out of Congress. Arroyo's two sons, Congressman Juan Miguel "Mikey" Arroyo and his younger brother, neophyte Congressman Diosdado "Dato" Arroyo, would make sure that Nograles will do exactly what mama wants.

The question that comes to mind is: Why did Arroyo get rid of de Venecia? De Venecia has been a loyal lieutenant of Arroyo who -- together with former President Fidel V. Ramos -- rescued her from imminent fall in 2005 as a result of the "Hello Garci" election cheating scandal. At 5:00 p.m. on that fateful Friday afternoon on July 8, 2005, with Arroyo losing her grip on power and ready to flee Malacanang and follow her husband Mike and son Mikey into exile in San Francisco, former President Ramos, Speaker de Venecia, several congressmen, and local officials rushed to Malacanang and stood behind Arroyo. To save her neck, Arroyo promised Ramos and de Venecia that she would go along with their plan to transform the republic into a parliamentary system in 10 months! But as soon as the "people power" siege was over, Arroyo reneged on her promise and pursued a different course. Mike and Mikey came back from "exile" -- or was it R and R? -- and everything was back to normal. Once again, La Gloria has conned all the boys. Ha ha ha…

Given de Venecia's loyalty, and with two years left in her presidency, Arroyo could have kept de Venecia as the House head honcho until she steps down gracefully from the presidency at the end of her term in June 2010. That would have been the right thing to do. Instead, she started a war with de Venecia and anyone who stands on her way. This war -- the "War of the Dynasties" -- would go beyond 2010 where the Macapagal-Arroyo dynasty would battle with anyone who would dare challenge their supremacy. For Mikey and Dato, the "whacking" of de Venecia was their "baptism of fire." They have "made their bones," so to speak. They allegedly did it in retaliation for the expose' made by de Venecia's son Joey de Venecia III who accused their father Mike Arroyo for involvement in the NBN $329 million deal in which President Arroyo was forced to cancel to prevent the scandal from blowing in her face and scorch her presidency. According to Joey, Mike Arroyo and then COMELEC Chairman Benjamin Abalos brokered the deal with the Chinese outfit ZTE Corp.

On February 7, two days after de Venecia was ousted by the Arroyo brothers, Rodolfo "Jun" Lozada, Jr. -- surrounded by nuns -- surfaced and held a press conference at 2:00 a.m. at the La Salle Greenhills campus and exposed Mike Arroyo and Abalos of their involvement in the failed NBN deal. Lozada said that he was a consultant for the NBN project and was asked by Romulo Neri, who was then the Director-General of the National Economic and Development Authority, to review the project. The price tag of the NBN project was originally $262 million but Abalos wanted a $130 million kickback. Thus, the price was increased to $329 million to make sure that Abalos got his kickback. It is interesting to note that Joey de Venecia, in his testimony before the Senate last October, told the Senate panel that Abalos promised Mike Arroyo a $70 million kickback. If that would have been the case, Abalos would have kept a hefty $60 million for himself. After his press conference, members of the office of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms arrived and whisked him away to safety.

The following day, Lozada testified before the Senate for seven hours. He told the Senate panel that Neri "instructed" him not to involve Mike Arroyo in the NBN issue. Neri's instruction was relayed to him by President Arroyo's Malacanang aide Medy Pobaldor while he was in Hong Kong. Interestingly, Lozada said that the government sent him to Hong Kong because "they couldn't find a legal remedy to stop the Senate" from requiring him to testify on the NBN deal. Isn't that what also happened to Joc-Joc Bolante during the fertilizer scam investigation by the Senate? Lozada also said that he met with Mike Arroyo, Abalos, and Neri during a dinner with ZTE officials. Lozada said that the ZTE officials told him that they had advanced some money to Abalos. I supposed the "advance" money was not refundable which would have angered the ZTE officials when President Arroyo canceled their contract. The question is: Did Abalos split the "advance" money with Mike Arroyo?

With de Venecia licking his wounds and Lozada singing like a canary in front of the Senate, what's going to happen next? Would de Venecia do to President Arroyo what Governor Chavit Singson did to former President Estrada? If de Venecia were smart, he would have kept a dossier of damaging information on all the corruptions and shenanigans in the Arroyo administration, just in case he might need them someday. Well, that "someday" is today. De Venecia has to strike while the iron is hot.

We all know that Charter change (Cha-cha) has always been in Arroyo's mind. It's the only vehicle for her to stay in power short of declaring martial law. As a matter of fact, she proposed last year to change the government to a federal system by 2012. Many believed that Arroyo's ultimate goal is to extend her term beyond 2010. Had the Supreme Court not rejected Arroyo's flawed people's initiative, she would have become the Prime Minister in 2010 under the parliamentary system that she proposed. Now, with the House of Representatives under her control, Cha-cha could easily sail through the House. But she would face stiff opposition in the Senate in which case she could once again resort to a people's initiative. This time, she would not repeat the mistake she made with the first people's initiative.